Looking at Health through a New Parks and Recreation Lens in Wake Forest
Healthy snacking banners are displayed at Wake Forest’s Parks and Recreation facilities to support use of the Sports Snack Game Plan for all of the town’s youth sports leagues.
The parks and recreation mission in Wake Forest has always incorporated health, but after attending an AHA meeting last summer, Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources Director Ruben Wall was curious about how his department could do more to serve the 40,000 residents of Wake Forest.
“The Health in All Policies discussion sparked my interest in looking at health from a different perspective. I wanted to see what we could do as a department and a town to make health a major part of what we do,” Wall said. “It’s in our Parks and Recreation mission—it’s what we do—but I wanted to look at it at from a different perspective. We touch a lot of people—kids, parents, seniors—so we’re very influential in the community in the things we do. So AHA’s discussion really stoked my curiosity about what more we could do to help our citizens be healthier.”
Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones and a town commissioner at that time also joined Wall at that meeting; their support and that of the town’s other leaders has enabled Wall and his staff to put a number of changes into action.
Last fall the town Board of Commissioners approved the Healthy Snack Resolution, which the department is using for its youth sports teams, summer camp and at the town’s pool concessions stand this summer to encourage healthier snacking.
Wall’s staff is using AHA’s Sports Snack Game Plan and the Camp Snack Game Plan, (bringing the number of kids impacted per year by AHA’s healthy snacking resources to nearly 50,000) and has posted 8 healthy snacking banners throughout the parks system and on greenways and trails that serve as a reminder to drink water and pack healthy snacks. This summer, 50% of the concessions items available for purchase at Holding Park Pool will be healthy choices, and Wall’s staff is pricing the healthier options to be less expensive.
“In the past, we sold our drinks a lot cheaper than the convenience store down the road did. Our pool coordinator decided to price water less expensively now and price the less healthy drinks at prices comparable to what people would pay at the convenience store. If the price is $1.50 or $2 for drinks at the convenience store, that’s what it will be at the pool, but the water will cost less.” Wall said. Staff is still working to determine its healthy menu choices and will track its sales over the course of the summer.
Wake Forest Parks and Recreation has created a series of posters that promote different aspects of healthy living.
Wake Forest’s youth athletics involve 1,700 children and teens in 7 different sports. Last summer, attendance at the pool reached a record 20,000. Wall sees the significant potential for parks and recreation to play a role in educating its citizens about healthy living, and it’s clear that his department can play a role as a “marketer” of healthy living with numbers like these.
So Wall also worked with the town’s communications staff to develop healthy lifestyles posters that it uses when not promoting events. “We have 14 different posters—some have beautiful fruits and vegetables on them. Others show people jogging or even sleeping and it says ‘Rejuvenate.’ We’re working to share that there are healthier ways to live by having these all over our parks system,” Wall said.
The Sports Snack Game Plan and resolution has been posted on the Wake Forest website since last fall, but it is officially rolling out at coaches’ meetings this spring. Wall also said they are working to create a PSA type of video to share with parents, and then can point to the banner hanging at the baseball field, for example, to encourage them to bring snacks like bananas and Cuties, instead of chips, donuts or candy.
Standard Operating Procedure
Among Wall’s goals for his department is to have standard operating procedures that health and wellness is part of everything they do. “Every program, every athletic league, every event, we want to follow this standard of educating the citizen about health and wellness,” Wall said. “It’s like a checklist for procedures—at every coaches’ meeting, they discuss the Sports Snack Game Plan, and they send it to parents, and it’s on the registration form for parents when they sign kids up. I want us to be able to check the boxes off.”